Juggling is one of the most entertaining skills in soccer but ironically, a player rarely gets the chance to juggle, or have the reason to do so, during the match. A basic rule of soccer says that if you want your team to keep possession for as long as possible, and today’s game is based around prolonged possession, the ball must stay on the ground as much as possible. Obviously, while juggling you would have to lift it from the ground, which is why the skill itself isn’t very useful in itself.
That’s the reason why a lot of coaches tend to dismiss it or overlook it in training sessions, thinking that they’d rather train the players to something that has practicable use in a match. And that’s what I believe to be one of the biggest mistakes in coaching, especially in youth coaching: ignoring soccer juggling training.
To back up my claims, I’m going to show you exactly why soccer juggling is so important and also tell you how to juggle properly and a couple of ways to train it individually, with a teammate or in a group.
Soccer Juggling – Why is it Important?
You won’t find yourself juggling in almost any situation on the pitch (unless maybe if you want to humiliate your opponents or the likes), but that doesn’t mean soccer juggling shouldn’t be trained. In fact, it’s one of the skills that are amongst the easiest to train and not only that, but you’ll also see the results very quickly.
Juggling affects an array of peripheral skills and most importantly, it’s fun! Learning and developing as a soccer player with exercises that are hard or boring isn’t the best way to do so, but if you can train and have fun at the same time, that’s a proven golden recipe. Here are some of the skills that are most visibly improved with the help of juggling:
Ball Control – Probably the skill that improves most with juggling is ball control. Doing constant juggling exercises, you’ll learn exactly how strong to tip the ball with your foot to stay within your range, which is basically what ball control is all about.
While juggling, you also get what I like to call “foot confidence” and you’ll soon learn to control the ball without actually having to focus on the trapping itself. This is extremely important since it permits you to control the ball naturally, allowing you to use those extra 2 seconds you would need to focus on receiving the ball, to already look up a player to pass it to.
Agility – While juggling, you will have to make quick adjustments to your body in order to keep the ball in mid air. In the long run, this improves your agility and you’ll be able to gain control of the ball faster in a match, in situations where lightning reflexes are needed. It also helps you with performing faster direction changes, which is great to have when dribbling the ball past an opponent.
Trapping and Receiving – This applies especially for balls coming at you in mid air that you need to gain control of. Soccer juggling allows you to quickly judge how soft or hard you need to hit the ball, in order for it not to get out of your body’s reach. Although having to trap a long ball with your thigh or foot won’t be the same as having to juggle a ball at the same height with your thigh or foot, it’s still a good basis to learn how to perfectly execute these moves.
These are the skills that can be worked out with the help of soccer juggling that have the most visible effect, but obviously, juggling affects a lot of other skills to a smaller extent. So now that you know how important juggling is, let’s see how you can train it and how to juggle correctly.
Soccer Juggling – How to Juggle Correctly
The fun thing about soccer juggling is that there’s no real “right” technique to do it. You can juggle with your instep, outside or inside of foot, back heel, head, hip, thigh or shoulder, as long as you keep the ball in the air, it’s correctly done. However, if you want to focus on improving the skills I mentioned above, it’s a good idea to try to follow a few juggling patterns.
Start off by juggling with your strong foot. When you can 50 to 100 juggles just using your strong foot without too much of a hassle, start the same process, but this time use your weaker foot. Again, once you’re confident you can do 50 to 100 juggles with your weaker foot, start alternating between them.
When you can do 100 or more alternative juggles (meaning that there’s no left-left or right-right juggle combination in that 100 or more), start practicing with your stronger foot’s thigh, then your weaker foot’s thigh and finally, your head.
Once you get a good grip of all these sub-exercises for juggling, simply play with the ball and juggle it with whichever body part comes comfortable. If you’re at this stage in juggling, where you can seemingly juggle forever and not drop the ball, you’ve already improved your other skills a great deal, so those hours of practice will finally pay off. It’s getting here that’s the hard part though…
Soccer Juggling – Drills
I covered how to juggle individually in the section above, so if you’re willing to spend some extra time off the training hours to improve yourself and your soccer juggling skills on your own, you should follow up that routine. As a coach however, you’ll want to have your players working on juggling during the practice sessions as well and it’s best if you combine allowing them to juggle individually, with working in pairs and/or groups.
In order for them to practice their soccer juggling skills in pairs, you should try to hand pick the pairs with height and juggling skill in mind. You’ll want players with close heights to work together and not pit someone that’s a foot taller against a smaller teammate because it might disrupt the exercise. You’ll also want to have players with close juggling skills working together, pairing up less skilled players to allow them to work on their juggling skills without hindering another player’s exercise.
Think of what would happen if a less skilled juggler would be paired up with a highly skilled one…obviously, the highly skilled one would hardly improve his own juggling technique, since he would constantly have to wait for the less skilled teammate to catch up.
The pair exercise is simple. The players will have to pass the ball onto one another, in mid air, being allowed a maximum of three touches of the ball. Encourage them to pass the ball with different parts of the foot, their thighs and head, so they gain ball control with all of these areas.
You can also spice things up by offering small rewards and “punishments”, for example the pair that manages to keep the ball in the air longer, gets some sort of reward, or each time a player drops the ball to the ground, he should do 10-20 push ups, then continue with the exercise.
Also work on your players’ juggling skills in groups larger than a pair. You can accommodate the windmill exercise to juggling training to some extent. In a windmill exercise, 4-6 players sit in a row, with another 4-6 in front of them. The first player from row A passes the ball to the first player from row B, then quickly moves to the back of the row. The receiving player from row B passes the ball back to the next player in row A and moves to the back of his own row, and so forth.
It’s a very dynamic exercise that involves several of your players at the same time, so if you want to accommodate it for juggling, tell your players to pass the ball in mid air instead of on the ground, with a minimum of two touches and a maximum of three. Not only will this improve your players’ juggling skills, but it will also simulate how you would use your juggling skills in a real match scenario, where the ball is coming in mid air from a teammate or an opponent, unlike when you’re juggling individually and the ball comes at you vertically.